Dutch Kitchen: Hutspot Recipe

The Dutch get creative with their meat and potatoes
This hutspot recipe is perfect for blah weather

One of the most popular traditional Dutch meals is hutspot, known in English as hotchpotch. And a good hutspot recipe is a must-have for expats in the Netherlands.

According to legend, the dish began life as cooked potato bits left behind by the Spanish during their hasty retreat following the siege of Leiden in 1574 during the Eighty Year’s War.

During Nazi occupation during World War Two, hutspot became a symbol of Dutch freedom as all the ingredients, being grown beneath the ground, could be kept from Nazi sight.

Nowadays, this warm mash of vegetables is a great dish for the autumn and winter months. It’s filling, warm, and healthy.

I recently used the following recipe to make hutspot for a friend visiting from the U.S. She, like another pal I’d made the dish for back in the spring, absolutely loved it, calling it “the perfect blend of all the comfort foods.”

My favorite part about this dish is that it’s delightfully simple to make and literally anything can be added to it, from other vegetables to any combination of any spices.

Here’s how it’s made:

If you really want to do it the old-fashioned Dutch way, you’ll need:

Hutspot
Mashed potato with carrot, onion
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound potatoes, peeled
  2. 1 pound carrots, peeled
  3. 1 onion, chopped
  4. curry powder
  5. milk
  6. butter
  7. salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Peel and roughly chop potatoes and carrots, and add to a pot of water. Boil until soft.
  2. Meanwhile, finely chop an onion and sauté in oil until soft and transparent. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Once the vegetables have finished boiling, drain the pot of water.
  4. Mash vegetables together, adding butter and milk to make moist and fluffy.
  5. Season to taste with curry powder, salt and pepper.
Notes
  1. The Dutch pretty much live on a meat and potatoes diet, and hutspot tends to follow that rule. If you’d like to add some meat to your hutspot, you can serve with a worst or smoked sausage on the side; dice and cook slab bacon and mix it through before serving; drizzle each serving with gravy; serve alongside pot roast.
  2. Equally delicious as a vegetarian dish. Eat alone or add raisins, dried apricots, or chopped/sliced roasted apple.
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Eet smakelijk!

What’s your favorite drab-weather dish? If you’ve tried hutspot before or given this recipe a go, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Arnhem’s Openlucht Museum wins the 2009 BankGiro Loterij Museumprijs

Testing out the old Dutch cupboard beds at the Openlucht Museum in Arnhem

The BankGiro Loterij is the cultural lottery in the Netherlands. Each year, in association with Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the BankGiro Loterij selects one museum as the recipient of the Museumprijs (museum award) and €100,000. Each year has a different theme. In 2008, the category was archeological museums. For 2009, judges were looking for museums with the goal of making Dutch history accessible to both children and adults.

This year’s winner is the Openluchtmuseum  (Open Air Museum) in Arnhem. The museum’s director Pieter-Matthijs Gijsbers is elated by the outcome: “We are a museum of Dutch for all Dutch. I would like to warmly thank all those who voted for us.”

Jury members praised the museum for it’s success in representing the culture of Dutch daily living through hands-on activities, displays, and shows. The museum’s aim is to bring Dutch folk life and traditions to life in an outdoor setting.

Established in 1912, the museum is due to celebrate 100 years in 2012. In 1987, the Dutch government prepared to shut down the museum, but a flood of visitors on the day it was set to close forced the government to leave it open. Wise move as the museum is still popular today and was also awarded the European Museum of the Year in 2005.

In May 2009, I had the pleasure of visiting the Openluchtmuseum. Luckily, although the weather was threatening before we left, it turned out to be a beautiful day. We saw a live weaving demonstration, walked through a sea of windmills, strolled through their beautiful gardens, saw the interiors and exteriors of 17th century Dutch homes and farms, chugged free samples at their onsite brewery, and I even got to test out a typical Dutch cupboard bed! If you go, be sure to take a look through some of the quaint little shops and have some of their sensational poffertjes for lunch.

You can get into the Openluchtmuseum for free with a Museumkaart. Entry is €14,00 for adults and €9,80 for children ages 4-12. Children 3 and under get in for free. You can even bring Fido along! The museum is open from April 1 through November 1 from 10am-5pm.

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The Best Thing about Living in the Netherlands

Bonnie The Bike after undergoing Tiffization

Bonnie is one of my best friends here in the Netherlands. We spend an inordinate amount of time together. Although there have been times when we haven’t been the nicest to each other (like the time I locked her out in the rain or the time she pushed me against a shop window) we always make up in the end. We’ve also been through a lot together: getting caught out in storms, getting lost and finding our way again, exploring new areas and taking trips together.

To be honest, Bonnie was one of the things I dreaded most about coming here. I just wasn’t sure that we’d mesh as her lifestyle is so different from the one I had back in the US. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle her. The first few weeks together weren’t easy. And let’s just say we didn’t exactly hit it off the first time I met her.

But since then, Bonnie has introduced me to a whole new world. One I had never spent much time in because it just didn’t fit who I was. Now, its such a huge part of me and I can’t imagine my life without it. She’s helped me begin to lead a healthier lifestyle and she’s taught me to be more independent. I like to think that we’re invincible.

If I were to leave the Netherlands, Bonnie is one of the things I would miss the most. I already miss her whenever I go away, no matter how long I’m gone. Yet she’s always there waiting for me when I get back so we can go off on our latest adventure. It’s funny that the part of living here I thought I would dislike the most has become something I now can’t live without. Bonnie and I have known each other for about a year now, and I can honestly say that it’s been the best year of my life. And Bonnie has a lot to do with that. I hope that we have many more years together, and wherever I end up, if Bonnie’s still around, I’ll be taking her with me.

Who would have thought that I’d end up feeling this way about a bike? I certainly didn’t.

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Romance met Contrabas

On September 30, 2009, I had the pleasure of attending the Nederlands Film Festival. This year marked the festival’s 29th year of existence. Independent films are submitted and nominated for the coveted Gouden Kalf (Golden Calf) award and shown at various locations.

Unfortunately, I found out about the event a bit too late and was only able to make it to one film. Hoping to improve my Dutch, I was disappointed when the film turned out to be in English. The movie, however, was a delightful combination of fantastic angles, great story, stunning music by a live orchestra, and avant garde dance… though not without fault.

Romance met Contrabas, or Romance with Double Bass, is a short story written in 1886 by Anton Tsjechov (also spelled Chekhov) about a double bass player who gets himself in quite the pickle, dragging the poor princess Biboelova along for the ride. A long and hard Google search left me with nothing on the piece but a synopsis of the 1974 film version starring John Cleese.

The music was undoubtedly the best part of the evening. Piano, voice, viola, guitar, accordion, laptop, electronic board, and, of course, double bass all came together to create a most incredible sound. Highlights were alto Helena Rasker and bassist Quirijn van Regteren Altena. The multi-talented Janica Draisma performed a live dance solo, starred as Biboelova, and narrated the film. Oh, and she directed, adapted, and filmed the piece too (well, the parts she wasn’t in anyway).

It took me the first half of the 75 minute film to realize the the bassist onstage before me was none other than the fellow playing the hapless musician Smytsjkov (or Smychkov). He was an absolute delight in the film.

My major critiques are relatively few. First, I thought the dance was just a bit too bizarre. I do love modern and contemporary dance styles, but this was nothing more than waving the arms about interspersed with one or two weak hitch-kicks. It had absolutely no point and was, in my opinion, a huge distraction.

There were also a few inconsistencies. Like when Smytsjkov decides to hide in the bushes nearby the bridge. He ends up under a bridge with no bushes in sight. At another point, the narrator makes a point of saying that when Biboelova emerged from the water, only her jar of bait was to be found – her clothing having been stolen while she was in the lake retrieving her water lilies. I saw no jar of bait, but I did see her shoes, which she immediately put on and wore throughout the rest of the film. Perhaps shoes are not considered clothing in Russia?

The unnecessary and awkward sex scene that apparently took place in Smytsjkov’s imagination would have been better off cut from the final version of the film. There was a particularly poignant scene that ends Tsjechov’s story, where Biboelova strolls along the bridge above an oblivious Smytskov who, folks in the nearby village say, is still searching for his beloved Biboelova. This would have been the perfect ending to the film. But Ms. Draisma had other ideas. Other ideas that screamed “hey, lookie what I can do with a camera!”

By cutting the pointless ending after the ending and shortening some painfully long shots, the movie could easily have been about 10 minutes shorter and a lot easier to sit through. (At one point Biboelova has gone into the lake to fetch her water lilies. There are endless shots of her underwater as your bottom gets numb and you start to lose your focus. Finally after she pops up, the narrator describes her search as having taken 15 minutes. “I know!” I wanted to shout. “I just sat here and watched all 15 minutes of it!”)

All in all, an enjoyable artistic film accompanied by a nice glass of wine and surrounded by drinks and girl talk with a good friend. As for the Nederlands Film Festival? I’ve already got it on my calendar for next year.

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Driving Rant: Passing your rijbewijs exam

I passed my rijbewijs exam…. the time has come, my precious!

As of next Wednesday afternoon, I will be a licensed driver here in the Netherlands. Yes, this morning I took (for the second time) and passed (for the first time) my Rijbewijsexamen!

As obtaining one’s Dutch license is difficult and expensive enough as it is, I thought I’d throw you a bone (it’s the only one you’ll get!) and share some tips:

  1. Forget the concept of “gradual acceleration.” They want you to instantly reach the higher speed as soon as you see the sign.
  2. Do not stop or slow down at shark’s teeth or yield signs unless you actually see something coming. Supposedly your slowing down obstructs the traffic behind you too much.
  3. Unlike in the US, you look in your mirrors and to the side before you put on your turn signal. This took me the longest time to get right!
  4. Cyclists have the right-of-way. Always. They know this and feel as though it makes them exempt from following any and all traffic rules and regulations.
  5. Always, always, always stay in the right-hand lane unless you are making a left hand turn on a multiple lane road. If there are more than one left-turn lanes, you must stay in the rightmost one. 
  6. Always drive the posted speed limit and no slower unless it is dangerous to do so.
  7. On an equal crossing, the vehicle to the right has priority. Always look to the right at every intersection when traveling on non-priority roads. This rule also holds for bikes, mopeds, and motorcycles.

Know what to expect
Before setting foot in the vehicle, you will be asked to read the license plate number of a car across the parking lot from where you are standing.

Once you arrive at the test vehicle, you may be asked to pop the hood open. At this point, the examiner will ask you to identify the car parts under the hood. Usually, they skip this part and ask you to step into the vehicle right away. There, you will be asked to identify lights, gauges, and buttons inside the car.

Then, you’re off!

During the course of the exam from this point on you will be expected to: perform two special maneuvers; listen to a series of directions from the examiner which you will then be expected to carry out (cluster opdraag); drive on the highway; drive through a precinct; navigate the way to a specified destination using road signs only.

Be prepared to fail the first go around. The CBR seems to enjoy failing people at least once just out of principle. Good luck!

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Reflecting on Queen’s Day 2009

Oranje pride on Queen's Day in the Netherlands
A very orange street musician shows her Dutch pride on Queen’s Day

Koning is Dutch for king and Koningin is Dutch for queen. Koninginnedag (or Queen’s Day) is a national holiday in the Netherlands celebrating the Queen’s birthday.

Not the current Queen Beatrix’s birthday, which is in January, but that of her mother Juliana. Juliana was born on the 30th of April when the weather in Holland tends to be significantly better than during the winter months

She was known to have ridden her bicycle among her people with little to no security. Her subjects were even permitted to stroll right up and give her a peck on the cheek! This way, the cloggie royalty came to be known as “the cycling monarchy.”

Always available to the public, the royal family has continued to not only attend, but participate in Queen’s Day festivities: playing games and dancing as if they too were part of the crowd.

Celebrations begin on April 29th with Koninginnenacht, or “Queen’s Day Eve,” if you will. City centers all over the country are closed off from cars and bikes (the latter unless you like to live dangerously) and people swarm in to set up camp.

Camp? Yes, they head in early to ensure a place in front of houses, canals, buildings, and in parks to set up their wares. Because what is Konninginnedag if not an excuse to sell all your unwanted items? If you choose to visit the Netherlands on the 29th or 30th of April, be prepared to enter Flea Market Heaven (or hell, depending on how you feel about this pastime).

In addition to the sales is scores of live music and loads of drinking. Food and beverage tents and caravans litter the city, and pubs set up shop outside to sell beer on the streets. That way you can enjoy a brew and a snack as you peruse the rummage sales! Bands leaving much to be desired entertain the masses everywhere you turn, and DJs fill the spaces between. But most importantly, everyone is dressed in orange.

My husband and I had Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken) with friends on Koninginnenacht and then headed out into town for an evening of beer, music, and sales.

The next day, we popped over to the Rummelmarkt (yard sale) in Juliana Park and bought some great makeshift toys for the dog. He now has his very own stuffed version of Holland’s mascot Loeki the Lion. Then we headed back into the city center for a nice, ‘healthy’ lunch of patat (fries typically smothered in mayonnaise) and beer, looked around some more at the sales, and listened to several street bands. It was amazing to see so many people squeezed into the streets and canals.

Each year on Koninginnedag, the Royal Family chooses a city in Holland to visit. This year, they graced Appeldoorn with their presence. But everything went horribly wrong.

As per usual, the royal family began with their parade through the town by bus, when a car broke through the police barricades and the crowd, careening toward the bus. Just in the nick of time, the car inexplicably veered off it’s course and crashed into De Naald monument in the center of the square, stopping it dead in it’s tracks. The royal family was rushed to Paleis Het Loo and immediately put under lock-down.

Eight people were killed including the driver of the vehicle, identified as Karst Tates, who passed away in the hospital before anyone could question him. Before falling into a coma at the scene of the accident, he did confess to having planned the attack on the royal family, with crowned prince Willem-Alexander as his primary target.

Prior to these unfortunate events, Tates had lost his job as a security guard and was in heavy financial trouble. His apartment had been seized and sold, and the new family was to move in the following day. It was also reported that he was divorced and being kept from his children.

It has been concluded that he planned and carried out the attack alone. Authorities have yet to determine a motive. While taking his own life as well as the lives of seven others, Tates did not succeed in altering the relaxed lifestyle of the House of Orange, which plans to continue to enjoy many a Queen’s Day to come.

Read more about the tragedy here.

Have you ever experienced Queen’s Day in the Netherlands? If so, what was it like?

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Dutch Women Don’t Get Fat Either

All that cycling the Dutch do pays off
Could this be one of the reasons Dutch women don’t get fat either?

As an American with a wide cultural background and lots of traveling and living abroad experience, I have always been amazed at how much rich foods European men and women eat and yet remain so slim.

We’ve all heard that French women don’t get fat, but my experience in the Netherlands has shown me that Dutch women don’t get fat either.

After moving to the Netherlands and adapting to the culture here, I quickly figured out why: Lifestyle.

Read my article, Weighty Issues: The Dutch Edition at ExpatExchange.com to see what a difference lifestyle makes. Here’s an excerpt from the piece to whet your appetite:

 

What is it about Europeans that allows them to break almost every dieting rule ever written and still remain so slim?

They eat almost nothing but carbs, have their last meal way after 7pm, drink real milk, eat real mayonnaise, have dessert after at least one of their three meals… You know, all those things they tell you NOT to do when watching your waistline!

And yet, we in America with all of our diets and weight loss aids, a plethora of lite, reduced-fat, and fat-free foods are the ones who are overweight.

The answer is very simple and very logical, yet always overlooked because it is so simple (not to mention it actually takes work).

Lifestyle.

Of the 3 other countries in which I’ve lived, there’s only one that I have enough experience in to actually speak with any sort of authority: Holland. I moved here early December 2008 after marrying a Dutchman.

My first several months here, I drank several cups of tea and coffee per day sweetened with pure sugar. I went from skim milk to halfvolle (“half full” or “half whole”). Every night after dinner, my husband and I would have dessert: ice cream, custard, pudding, etc. Every night we’d watch a movie and polish off a bag of M&Ms between the two of us.

I was introduced to all the Dutch treats. Patat: a large cone filled with fat Flemish fries, smothered in whatever topping you choose. Most Dutch just go for plain mayonnaise, but curry and peanut sauce are also popular. My favorite: a mix of mayonnaise, peanut sauce, and onion called Patat Oorloog, or “fries war.” Ollieballen: a New Year’s treat. It literally means “oil balls.” You take it from there. Bitterballen: God only knows what’s in it, but it’s some sort of meat mixture that’s fried. Speculaas: a spice cookie. Eirekoeken: some sort of bread/cookie thing that resembles angel food cake in texture. Hagelslag: sprinkles that come in all sorts of flavors. Chocolate’s the winner in my book. Vla: a custard pudding. You get the idea.

Do you know how much weight I gained? None. Zip. Zilch. Nil. Not a single inch, kilo, or pound (until my mom came over and lavished us with Easter candy…). Cool, huh? You’re probably wondering how I was able to pull this off… In one word: fiets.

Fiets is Dutch for bike. The Dutch are nuts about their bikes. In the city I live in, they have the traffic lights rigged so you can pretty much expect every light you arrive at to be red. The hope is that this will motivate more people to use their bikes or public transportation. There are bike paths literally everywhere complete with special bike traffic lights and road rules.

A Dutchie utilizes all parts of the two-wheeled contraption: the baggage carrier on the back, the handle bars, they add baskets and bicycle bags, attach baby seats and wagons – anything you can imagine. They carry everything from fresh flowers, to several of their buddies, to furniture.

Families travel on vacation by bike and many Cloggies can even ride without using the handle bars at all! Since being here, I have accomplished riding a bike in heels, with my dog Turner on the leash, with ridiculous amounts of cargo, while talking and texting on my cell, and while holding an umbrella against deadly winds and pelting rain. I cycle to my classes, I cycle into town, I cycle to my friends’ places, meetings, the dentist, the train station, and to work.

But of course, I don’t attribute it all to my bike (her name’s Bonnie, by the way).

The title for this post comes from the title of the recent popular book by Mireille Guiliano, French Women Don’t Get Fat.

What’s the weight situation in your new country? Have you found your eating and exercise habits improving… or not so much?

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How I Avoided Feeling Like a Foreigner

You'll feel like a foreigner as longs as you live out of a suitcase
Put your suitcase out of sight and out of mind. Planning to stay put might help you feel like less of a foreigner in your new country

The other day a friend was telling me about her first Dutch class a few years ago. On the first day of class, the teacher asked students to raise their hands if they had come to Holland for love. The majority of the hands in the classroom went up and the teacher was not at all surprised… that seems to be par for the course for a buitenlander (foreigner) here.

I too moved here for love. My husband is Dutch and we met through mutual friends on his holiday to the U.S. in September 2007. It was a flyby meeting, but apparently one that allowed each of us to make quite an impression on the other.

As my friend who introduced us tells it, we bugged her so much with questions about the other that she finally just gave each of us the other’s email address and told us to leave her alone! A few weeks later we began our online relationship via email and Skype. I felt as though I could tell him anything – and I pretty much did!

In November 2007, I got on a plane to Amsterdam to spend a weekend with him. Upon my return, I called my mom as soon as I could get cell phone reception… and told her I had met the man I was going to marry.

Hubs proposed four months later and it occurred to us that one of us was going to have to leave our home country. As he makes more money and immigrating to the Netherlands is easier than immigrating to the U.S. (believe it or not), we decided I would move to the Netherlands.

I knew it was going to be a big step and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. The last thing I wanted was to feel like a foreigner in my new home. While still in the States, I practiced riding my long-ago-neglected bike, and I had experienced cycling in the Netherlands on one or two of my last visits. My husband also taught and practiced with me the most basic of Dutch. I had also met several of his friends and struck a one-day-per-week babysitting deal with one of them. My first Dutch “job!”

But the thing I found most helpful was my tip on the International Women’s Contact Utrecht (IWCU). One of Hubs’s friends happens to be married to a Canadian who moved here 7 years ago and is very involved with the club. She was the one who had the brilliant idea to give us my first year’s membership to the club as a wedding gift. And on my last visit to the Netherlands before the wedding, she gifted me with a copy of their bimonthly newsletter.

On the flight back to the States, I read the thing from cover to cover! I loved reading about the other women in the club: why they came to the Netherlands, their tips and advice, what they love about the Netherlands as well as what they dislike, descriptions of upcoming events, pictures and write-ups from past events. For the first time since deciding to move to the Netherlands, I realized that I was not the only one. I was, in fact, one of very, very many. I felt like I could do this.

We got married, went on a week-long honeymoon to New York City, and stopped by my parents’ long enough to get my dog and say our goodbyes before flying to the Netherlands.

We arrived on a Sunday and I went to my first IWCU event the following Wednesday. Not only had they all “been there, done that,” but they were able to give me tips on where to look for a teaching job and where I could find performance opportunities in the theater. My new favorite hobby became meeting expats (particularly women) and learning why they came here, how long they’ve been living here, and what they think about life in the Netherlands.

This and my Facebook habit, led me to other expat groups in Utrecht and various expat publications like ACCESS Magazine, The Holland Times, Time Out Amsterdam, The Xpat Journal, and XM and Family-Matters Magazines.

They include all the wonderful things I love about the IWCU publication, but go further than that. I love the “news” articles that keep me up-to-date about what’s going on in the world, what’s going on around the country, and gives fabulous tips on places to go and things to see in the Netherlands. In early April, I took my parents to the Keukenhof – an indescribable wonder and something I don’t think I would have known about had it not been for an article I read.

From there, I added expat blogs to my reading list, particularly those located in the Netherlands. The best part is that, after reading these publications and blogs, I feel like I know so much more about the country I now live in and the people who live here.

At the time of this writing, we have been married for a little over four months and I have been living in the Netherlands for almost as long. I have more or less gotten a grip on the language, the culture, the people, and the whirlwind that has been my life for the past year has more or less settled. In short, I no longer feel like a foreigner.

I really love living in the Netherlands and keep telling people that if things continue to go the way they are going now, I don’t see myself wanting to move back to America. Both Netherlanders and internationals are, more often than not, surprised to hear me say that. Especially so soon.

I think the reason for my feeling this way is that I really jumped right into it, hit the ground running, and all those other clichés that mean I didn’t waste time. I immediately joined expat groups and subscribed to expat publications. I hadn’t even been in the Netherlands for three months before I started my first Dutch class. I read Dutch children’s books, use my Dutch whenever possible, attend a Dutch speaking group, and utilize Dutch language books, CDs, DVDs, podcasts, websites, etc. whenever possible. I’ve been driving with the crazy Dutch drivers and cyclers for over two months now and will be starting my driving lessons in the next month or so. I’m even hosting my own expat events and have built up some wonderful friendships here.

As soon as I got here, I hopped right on the fiets (bike) and started cycling my heart out. Oddly enough, though I never named any of my cars, I felt the need to christen my bike because I love it so much and it has such a personality that I felt it needed a name. And so now she will be forever known as “Bonnie.”

Bonnie and I have already had two crashes and almost knocked my husband into oncoming traffic (I swear it was an accident!). I can now cycle while holding an umbrella, wearing heels, talking and texting on my phone, carrying large, awkward items and loads of bags, and with my petrified-of-everything (bikes included) dog!

At the moment, I’m still waiting for my verblijfsvergunning (residence permit) and the coveted work permit that comes with it. But I am babysitting one day a week and talking to two international schools in Hilversum about starting an after-school musical theater program. The only thing I haven’t found is a good musical theater group, preferably in English. So if you know of one, do tell!

What steps have you taken to get past feeling like a foreigner in your host country? 

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Thoughts on Learning Dutch from a Newbie

Tips for learning Dutch
My go-to books when I first started learning Dutch

One of my favorite websites for learning Dutch is 2BDutch.com. It has been such a wonderful tool in helping me learn the language. With blogs and videos with multiple subtitles (Dutch and your own language are displayed at the bottom of the video screen), this site gives you a great start to learning about Dutch language and culture.

Here’s a blurb from the website:

“2BDutch is an easy and funny way to learn more about Dutch language and culture. Our videos with multiple subtitles can be used to practice your listening comprehension skills and to learn new Dutch words. Or just get more information about the Netherlands. 2BDutch is a community. Everyone can participate. So, feel free to join!”

The article A Newbie’s Advice: Thoughts on Learning Dutch originally appeared on 2BDutch.com.

Let’s see… where to begin? Well, I am a 26-year-old American who moved to the Netherlands for my Dutch husband. I’ve found that the whole “Dutch partner” thing is pretty typical here.

I met my husband in September 2007 and started learning Dutch from the silly words he taught me, like voetjevrijen (“footsies”) and schatje (“sweetie”). He eventually taught me how to count and introduced me to the “biggie” verbs: hebben (“to have”) and zijn (“to be”).

As Walt Disney said, it is a “small world after all.” Just to drive home that fact, there happened to be a Dutch exchange student at the high school where my mother was teaching at the time. It was this student, Naomi, who prepared me for the dreaded “Meeting of the Future In-laws” (which becomes just that much more terrifying when you don’t speak the same language). While all of this was fun and helpful, it certainly was not enough to get by once I was actually living in the Netherlands.

My mother is a stickler for being able to speak enough of the language to get by in whatever country you plan to visit. So it never crossed my mind to live in the Netherlands without learning Dutch.

I have also had this innate desire to be fluent in a second language and have long been jealous of those who are bilingual. I studied Spanish and then French during high school (four and three years respectively) and did extremely well.

But, as the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” And I lost 99% of the Spanish and roughly half of the French. So I see this as being my big chance. Mainly because I now have one key aspect that I was missing with the other two languages: immersion.

I am a firm believer that there is truly only one way to learn a language, and that’s the instruction/immersion combo. During instruction by a certified teacher, you learn the structure and the ‘why’s.’ Basically, you learn to speak, read, and write the language correctly.

With the immersion piece, you hear it all the time and you can apply what you learn in class to real life as well as learn the way the people speak the language – not just the way the text book uses the language.

I started using the Dutch I knew right away. Even when my vocabulary only included dankuwel and alstublieft, I forced myself to use English only to fill in the gaps. Now I use it only when I have asked the person to repeat themselves or speak slower and I still don’t understand.

Another great piece of advice is to speak it all the time. During the break in my Dutch class, I sit with the teacher and listen to and speak with her. I also use it with my husband more frequently as my Dutch improves. And my husband’s friends speak more Dutch around me now that they know I understand the majority of what they’re saying.

I play a little game with myself to see how little English I can use whenever I go shopping or to the dreaded gemeentehuis. I also joined a Dutch practice group through the International Women’s Club I joined here in Utrecht. The woman who leads the group has lived in the Netherlands for 12 years and is positively fluent. She has really given me something to aspire to.

Dutch is undoubtedly a complicated language. I have found bits and pieces of French and English within it, but all in all, it is nothing like any other language I have studied.

The structure of sentences is very complex. You’re always in suspense until you get to the end of the sentence, which is where the verb usually is. And no matter how much I practice or how hard I think about it, niet always eludes me. Where on earth do you put it depending on the point you want to get across? There are just so many rules and exceptions!

The bijzin, in my opinion, is by far the worst. You just can’t translate them literally. Although I will admit that it is fun! Take “als je Nederlands wil leren” for example… “if you Dutch want to learn”??? You gotta love it!

My husband loves the little oddities I come up with. For instance, I learned rather quickly that you cannot directly translate everything. “Home sweet home” does not become “thuis lief thuis.” Nor does “kijk naar je mond” mean the same as “watch your mouth.”

Then there’s the art of communicating in simpler words you do know when you don’t know the appropriate vocabulary. This is an art I have not quite mastered: chopping an onion and saying to my husband, with tears streaming down my face (as happens when one cuts onions) “Mijn ogen hebben water.”

How about you: What pitfalls and a-ha moments have you had while learning Dutch? Any Dutch speaking faux pas’ native speakers have given you an odd look over? I know you have them!

I’d also like to share my favorite video from 2BDutch. Enjoy!

If you’re interested in learning Dutch and want to know more about the books pictured in this post (all of which I highly recommend), see the links below. When you buy using any one of these links, a portion of your purchase goes to the maintenance and upkeep of Clogs and Hotdogs. Thanks in advance for your support!

 

Learn Dutch with DutchPod101.com

Clogs and Tulips

I’m officially an expat blogger

I decided that since I have an overwhelming number of expat chronicles, I would start yet another blog dedicated to my adventures and observations.

Check out Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland*
 

Last night, I auditioned for Divina Close Harmony, a women’s vocal group based here in Utrecht. A new friend via IWCU brought the group to my attention. She is one of their altos and the only non-Dutch member of the group! There was one audition last week and one other one coming up next week. I didn’t hear from them today, which means that they’ve chosen me over last week’s auditionee! Now I just have to wait until next Tuesday to see if I got in!

Before my audition, I watched a rehearsal and it was so much fun! I’m looking forward to making the group and doing performances, recording CDs, going on rehearsal retreats, beginning a Dutch social network and becoming a better Dutch speaker. I will be sure to let everyone know as soon as I find out!

Last week, Hubs’ company held its annual office day which, of course, he attended! The office say is an office field trip of sorts where the staff can relax, get to know each other better, try something new, and practice working together in a non-work-related environment. Past office days have included boating, BBQs, go carting, scavenger hunts, and a skit featuring me and Hubs and the office’s take on our engagement story! This year, they had a day in Amsterdam riding on Solexes (solar powered motor bikes) followed by a catered barbeque. Hubs had an excellent time and all Turner and I heard about that evening was the Solex bikes!

This Friday, Turner will be heading to Yuppie Dogs for the next 2 1/2 weeks. Hopefully there won’t be any drug busts in the areas while he’s there! This will be his first time away from home and without either one of his parents for such a long time! Be sure that I’ll be checking with Yuppie Dogs at least 10 times a day while we’re gone!

And where are we going? Saturday, we’re flying into Florida where we will spend a week in Orlando hitting up 2 of Disney’s theme parks and Universal Studios. The following Friday, we’re flying to Maryland for a busy week filled with an American Football game, Maryland Renaissance Festival, a baseball game, two weddings, and my dad’s birthday! And the Friday after our return is Driver’s License Test for Tiffany: take two!!

*Clogs and Tulips was revived as Clogs and Hotdogs in 2014

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